Major snow storms, bitterly cold temperatures, and extremely high winds have hit with a vengeance, and as tough as this weather is on humans, it can be even tougher on our dogs. NEVER leave your dog outside in weather like this, and remember, even if the temperature isn’t that low, wind chill can threaten your pet’s safety. If it’s too cold outside for you, then it’s too cold for your companion animal. If your fingers are cold, your dog’s feet and pads are too! They are vulnerable to frostbite and hypothermia in less than an hour’s exposure. It is the responsibility of pet caregivers to keep their dogs safe and healthy through the harsh winter months.

We don’t approve of “outdoor” dogs at any time of the year, because dogs are pack animals and are happiest and healthiest when kept with their human pack, but it is especially dangerous in extremely cold or hot weather. . Why have a dog if he is tethered or confined “out back”? If you don’t want a dog in the main part of your house, surely there is a heated area that could be kid- gated where he could spend his day in warm comfort. If he has behavioral issues, the solution is not to banish him to the back yard, but to spend the time to train him. Dogs are usually willing to comply to house rules if they understand what the rules are. TAKE him out for just a short, brisk walk, or if you have a basement or upstairs, you can exercise him by playing fetch up and down the steps (or even through the halls), and provide him some entertainment if you will be gone for an extended period of time. Popular “puzzle” or “foraging” toys are great!

My very favorite is the Kong which can be stuffed with part of your dog’s meal, or a combination of meal and treats. A few Kongs will keep your dog happily occupied for hours, and will lessen the chances of inappropriate behavior. If you absolutely refuse to let your dog into the house, at least fix up a warm corner in the porch, basement or garage, using plenty of blankets to provide a barrier from the cold floors and build him a warm, cozy “den.” There are many small, safe heaters that can be used to warm his den….don’t keep pets in unheated areas, but use caution to keep any electrical cords out of chewing reach…just in case.

A high quality, nutritionally balanced diet is essential, especially in the winter. To find out how different foods rate, google, an independent company, that rates all the major dog foods. Check out the food you are currently using…you may be surprised at what you find. All dog foods are not created equal, and with all the slick marketing techniques used, it’s tough to sort out what is good and what is simply advertising mumbo jumbo.

Many dogs need a sweater or coat to protect from the elements, but after evaluating dozens of different brands, we concluded that most of them are worthless. Some are difficult to put on the dog; many are ill-fitting or stretch out of shape quickly, others have uncomfortable bands that do little except irritate the animal, and most of them expose the dog’s vulnerable underside. Premier Pet “Fido Fleece” coats are really designed to keep Fido toasty warm. Made of anti-pilling fleece, they are durable and feature a collar-to-tail Velcro closure for easy on and off, wear like iron, and are super easy to clean— just machine wash and dry. Look up Fido Fleece Dog coats and you will find a wide choice of style and color.

Salt and de-icing chemicals can cause your dog’s pads to become dry, cracked, and painfully sore, so be sure to carefully snip the tufts of hair between her toes to help prevent ice balls from sticking. You can find dozens of dog boots or booties in pet stores and catalogs—most are cute but quite ineffective…and most dogs rebel against wearing them! A thin layer of aloe or Vaseline rubbed onto her footpads will provide a protective coating, and is safe even if she licks her feet. It is important to always clean off paws after a walk, even though the oil helps keep ice and snow from clumping so badly between the toes.

Please get involved if you see a neglected or shivering animal left out in the cold. (Shivering is the first sign of mild hypothermia) Urge people to bring their dogs inside, and as difficult as it is, don’t be belligerent or accusatory. Try to get your point across in a friendly manner. Ignorance is curable by education. However, if you meet with resistance, alert the authorities. Concerned neighbors are often the only hope for these poor animals.

We can judge the heart of a human by that person’s treatment of animals.

—Immanuel Kant